Barnes & Noble Stocking Fewer Books

Barnes & Noble released some details recently showing that revenues are down almost 5% and so on. The overall decline in sales and profits has been the lede of this news so far.

But one point that jumps out at me is worth mentioning (and lamenting). And that is the fact that Barnes & Noble bookstores are carrying fewer and fewer books every year.

Publishing industry thinker-doer-sage Thad McIlory surfaced the following nugget over on his site:

“In its latest report the company states that “each Barnes & Noble store features an authoritative selection of books, ranging from 22,000 to 164,000 titles.” The number ranged from “60,000 to 200,000 titles” in 2004. The long tail at Barnes & Noble is now 18% shorter.”

I feel frustrated every time I walk into a Barnes & Noble these days and have to navigate around the monolithic Nook base up front and then travel around all of the board games, toy figures and bobble-head dolls to get to… the fiction section. It’s that way in both the B&N shops here in town.

Lots of people go to stores with a specific title in mind to buy, but how many bump into books while there? How many folks browse and stumble into a good book and buy it? This happens. I know this happens. It happens to me. But when you keep fewer and fewer books on the shelves it is going to happen less and less.

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I can only assume that on some spreadsheet somewhere it shows that the margin on toy figures is better than books. Which I’m sure it is. So the owner of that spreadsheet decrees that in the interest of chasing profits (which they do indeed need to do as B&N is hurting) they swap out books for non-book merchandise. Which probably gooses the bottom line a little.

But over time bookish folks don’t get all that excited about visiting a B&N anymore. Another two seasons like the past two and it’s going to look like the toy and magazine/book racks at Target or Wal-Mart. So folks start directing book buying elsewhere and it starts to feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I know the book industry is crazy right now and margins on books have always been razor-thin, but the more Barnes & Noble goes down this path it really feels like it’s doing more damage than good.

Am I off in my thinking? Anyone else see it differently?

  • You’ve hit the nail on the head: what’s the crossover point where a bookstore ceases to appeal as such. By then it will be a second-rate toys & games shop (or whatever else it’s selling). Who’s the customer for this?

  • Sam Sattler

    Yeah, this morning I was going to visit my local coffee shop/toy store/card shop that happens to also sell a few books when I decided to pass because I never find anything there anymore unless it is a bestseller or approaching that popularity. B&N is forcing me to shop for books online and I hate that experience because browsing online is like searching for a needle in a haystack. I like to see what I’m buying so that I can judge the heft, the feel, the weight, the smell, and the visual appeal of the book. B&N is managed by a bunch of bobbleheads these days.

  • So true. Surely they have enough data to make some smart corrections and start leading again.

  • It certainly does feel that way re: B&N leadership. I just saw today that they hired a new CEO to run the bookstores. They poached him from SEARS. Maybe he can bring some smarts back to the brick & mortar part of the business.

  • Brandi

    Sears isn’t exactly hitting home runs in brick & mortar. Now there’s just the possibility of an exclusive Kardashian imprint.

  • Ugh. Just what the world needs: another outlet for the K’s. I can’t imagine what kind of books they’d list under their own imprint.